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#375 & #376: Respect at Work

Joan & Peggy from AMC Mad Men

“Oh. You think you’re being helpful.”

Hi Captain,

I wasn’t sure about sending you this question, but then I saw the tag ” Is someone in your life making it weird?” and I thought, “Yes! In fact someone IS making it weird!” So here goes.

First, some context of the problem I’m about to describe, in handy bulleted points:

-I work with Cas. She is three years younger than I am and has worked at my company (and in this field) for a year.
-I have worked at this company for two months, but have worked in this field for three years.
-Cas is the lead on the client we share, which means that she has an eensy amount of authority over me.
-I am totally okay with this and generally direct all of my job-related questions to her with no problems.
-I have a manager, Nat, and a department head, Vic.
-My entire team has weekly meetings lead by Vic. 
-Even though I’m the newest member of the team, I’ve hit it off with everyone pretty well. I’m pretty darn easygoing, and I basically like everyone. 

Okay! So here’s the problem that is nestled in all of those points: sometimes Cas takes on a creepy maternal tone with me, completely out of nowhere and usually in front of people. We’ll be having a totally normal meeting, Vic will mention a policy change, and Cas will look at me say in a soothing tone, “It’s okay, LW! Don’t worry!” How do you mistake someone doodling Charlie Brown on her meeting agenda for someone having a meltdown over a policy change?

Another time she got a due date wrong at a meeting, and when Vic corrected her, she responded by saying, “I get it now. Sorry for confusing you, LW!” I had literally said nothing up to that point and wasn’t even looking at her when she made that comment. It was super weird.

Recently I asked Nat for a performance review since I don’t have one due until January and I want to make sure that I’ve got the hang of things. She obliged, and I found that I’m doing pretty great! Yay! Cas mentioned to me that she would be offering up a performance review for me this week, so I just let her know that Nat had just done one. Cas blinked and said, “Oh, well, I’ll do it anyway just to be sure.” I said that this was fine (since I’m doing great, what harm is another review?) and went back to work. Cas then said, in that motherly tone, “It’s all right, LW. Don’t be nervous.” Captain, I ASKED for a review. I already got high marks. Why would I be nervous?

I’m not really looking for understanding as to why Cas acts this way. Maybe she’s feeling threatened, maybe she really likes having power and exercising it. You know, it really doesn’t matter to me since I can’t control her feelings. I know I do good work and I know she can’t undermine that. I guess I’m just wondering if there’s a good script I can use that is more professional/respectful than, “Hey, please knock it off with the comforting talk, because it’s SO CREEPY.” Her slight authority over me is what makes this so difficult–I do feel like I owe her appropriate respect and deference. Obviously since this is just an irritant and not a matter of harassment, bringing this up to Nat or Vic is not an option. I take pride in being a good employee, and part of that is not burdening my supervisors with stuff like this. 

So what do you think? Is there something I can say to make her stop treating me like I’m emotionally fragile when it’s overwhelmingly obvious that I’m not?

Not a Fainting Goat

Dear Not A Fainting Goat,

The “Surprise! I’m your self-appointed mentor!” problem is one I’m familiar with from my time in management consulting.

I have nothing but good news for you, because you are smart and awesome and handling this really well.

You’ve only been there for two months, so one piece of good news is that most of this is going to get resolved by time. You’re going to have more opportunities to demonstrate your competence, she is most likely going to chill out and stop acting like your Work Mommy, and all will be well without you having to do or say much of anything. Since she is much younger than you, it’s possible that this is her first time being in any kind of authority role over anyone and she’s SUPER-concerned about doing a good job.  This can be harnessed in a positive way if you keep your cool and give it some time.

I think the performance review battle is one worth fighting. If she is your supervisor, she should do a performance review. If she is NOT your supervisor, she should not do a performance review (but may have a very legit role as a peer evaluator). So I think you’re within bounds to ask her “Cas, I wanted to follow up on your offer to do a performance review the other day. Nat already handled that, but I’d be very interested in any feedback you have. Why don’t you email your comments to him – that way anything you have to say will be incorporated into my official review.”

In response to her reassurances, I would go with:

“Thank you! I got it.”

“Thank you. I wasn’t confused.”

“Thank you! I’m not worried.”

“Thank you! I think I’m good.”

ALWAYS answer back. But do it very politely and positively. What will happen is the weirdness of her always offering reassurances will start to get more grating and awkward, the rest of your team will notice that weird thing she does, and hopefully she’ll figure it out and dial back.

If 6 months in she’s still treating you like a delicate flower, you’re cleared to say “Cas, you’ve been so awesome at making me feel welcome here, but I’m not the New Guy anymore! Chill out with the worry, ok? I’m up to speed, and if for some reason you think I’m not, just tell me. I can handle it, I swear.” But I don’t think it will come to that.

Dear Captain,

I have an in-between role at work — I’m not a manager with direct reports, but I am in a senior position on my team, both in title and experience specific to this job. However, I am also the youngest person on my team, and most of my coworkers have worked at our company for longer than I have — just not in their current role. I’m tech savvy and quick to adapt, so this job suits me — several of my coworkers are the same. However, some of my other coworkers are not as tech savvy and frequently complain about not being provided with enough training — something that is difficult to do in an industry that changes as fast as ours and relies on people who can be self-motivated and self-directed.

There’s some friction between the two factions: the “savvies” get frustrated picking up the slack constantly, and then half the times we walk past their desks they’re on YouTube or Facebook or they’re napping, seriously, literally asleep at their desks. They complain about not knowing HTML or how to use Excel, which are a) things they told us they knew in their interviews, and b) best learned by googling/exploring on your own. So, we are civil but not personable — none of us feel like chumming it up with people who increase our workload. So the “unsavvies” have expressed (in team meetings, with our manager) that we are “mean” and that there is not enough trust within the team. One of the reasons given was we don’t use enough emoticons when we IM. I’m not shitting you. I’ve also had someone get angry at me for asking that they fix a multitude of oversights she made over a period of six months. This was after I asked her point blank if she understood and was completing the task, and she said yes. Don’t know if she was lying or understood so little about the task that she didn’t know she didn’t understand, but either is a problem.

Anyway, recently in an effort to provide “more training” I compiled a document outlining one of the processes I oversee that everyone on my team is responsible for completing regularly. The information had been provided verbally in initial training and casually in a few emails, but there were still a lot of oversights occurring. So I created the document, emailed it to everyone, and recommended that they print it to keep somewhere where it would be easy to reference. After this initial email, I received notification that this process was still not being followed properly (via the manager of another team tangentially involved in it). I sent a follow-up email in which I said I was still getting complaints, so I was now requiring that everyone print the document, post it in their cube in an easy-to-see place, and reference it frequently.

So today I noticed that in one of my coworker’s cubes, the document was indeed posted: it was posted almost invisibly behind his computer monitor, and upside down/unreadable. He wasn’t just sticking it in the only place it would fit — the rest of his cube is fairly bare. It was definitely there on purpose.

I can’t think of anything this was meant to convey besides “fuck you”. Can you?

My boss is pretty hands off as well as being super busy, so I think I need to address this with him directly rather than bringing it to her. I feel like I need to have a talk with him about it to find out why he did it, and request that I get a baseline level of professional respect even if he doesn’t like me personally. I also need him to, you know, be referencing that document because it is important! I don’t want it to devolve into a, “You’re mean!”, “Well you’re incompetent!” blowout, I want to talk only about this specific action and the inappropriateness of it. Any suggestions for a script? I’m also terrible with confrontation and cry easily. He’s about 25 years older than me. Any tips on how to keep my cool?

A Little Respect? Just a Little Bit?

Dear A Little Respect:

Your coworker is indeed being a pill. But in my strong opinion, this is a Choose Your Battles situation, and I suggest that there is an advantage to you in waiting.

Let him have his upside-down and backwards guidelines and be a childish dick…for now. Let the proof be in the results. Next time he has to turn in that particular TPS report or run that particular procedure, if it’s all correct, stand down. You’ve won the day.

If it’s NOT correct (it won’t be correct), it’s time for you to send an email to him cc:ing your boss.

Dear Coworker,

I’m very concerned that your ___ is still full of errors. Was something unclear in the (procedure memo?) Let’s block out some time today so we can go over this again one-on-one.

Look how awesomely professional and focused on work you are! Look how publicly incompetent he appears to be!

If you need to talk to your boss at that point, you are in a good position to say “Listen, I didn’t wat to be a petty jerk before, but this guy openly displayed the procedure memo upside down in his cube as a way to say F-U. That would be fine if he could actually do the work, but now that he’s shown that he can’t, I feel pretty justified in calling it out as disrespectful. Back me up?”

No big talk required. Wait, give him enough rope, yank the rope back.

I don’t know when I turned into Office Work Machiavelli. 1998, probably. You’re welcome.



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About JenniferP

Chicago filmmaker, teacher, and blogger.

148 comments on “#375 & #376: Respect at Work

  1. LW #1, I had a coworker like yours! She didn’t bother me too much because I know she generally meant well, but was very insecure, but it did get annoying. The Captain’s advice is spot on, but I admit that sometimes it got a bit much for me so I pretended not to hear/understand her the first time, which forced her to explain what she was doing, and that sped up the Stop That Already process a bit. For example:

    She: *something “helpful” that gently implies I’m nervous/naive/incompetent etc”

    Me: *very politely* Sorry, what was that? / Sorry, I must have missed something, what are you referring to?

    She: Uh….*either repeats what she just said in a much less condescending way or says “Nothing, forget about it!”

    Me: *in the nicest nice-y nice tone ever” Oh, okay! / Oh, thanks, but I’m good.

    Now, I don’t recommend this necessarily, because let’s face it, I was fighting passive aggression with more passive aggression, but it did help her catch on quickly.

    • I like this strategy for when you don’t want to totally alienate the person or get into a shit-fight. It’s like Conversational Judo where you make your opponent use their own strength against themselves.

      • It’s amazing how many situations it comes in handy for. People REALLY don’t like being forced to analyze and clarify what they’ve said unless it’s truly innocuous.

        • It’s kind of funny how many times I have genuinely needed someone to repeat something they said because I didn’t quite catch it (or, occasionally, didn’t want to believe I had heard correctly), and they backed down rather than repeat themselves.

          • You know what I hate? When I ask someone to repeat themselves, and they restate what they said instead. No, I didn’t have trouble understanding you, I had trouble *hearing* you.

            This seems to happen even when I am explicit (“I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you”). It’s like any question at all causes the person to feel judged or challenged, so they explain themselves or give examples when I’m still trying to figure out the main topic.

          • From my personal experience with a husband who has hearing loss and gets annoyed when I do the same thing, the reason people do it is because they think the New Words might be easier to catch, or they’ve rethought a more elegant way of putting it in the meantime. But yes, it’s infuriating for the person who missed it.

          • I actually have the other experience – I have a bit of an auditory processing disorder, which means that on occasion my brain refuses to process the sound of speech into, you know, actual words that contain meaning. If that happens, it actually does help if people restate what they say: the problem may be rooted in a specific phrase that my brain has decided is temporarily meaningless, and then repeating the same phrase won’t help but changing what you’re saying to avoid that phrase will.

          • I have that same disorder! You’re the only other person I’ve met with it, so now I feel less alone. (sorry, OT, it was just exciting)

          • I’d also like to point out that the restating strategy is definitely what you want to do with foreigners, not talking louder :-). So maybe the people who annoy you are used to being around foreigners, or they’re foreigners themselves? Maybe you just need to be a bit more upfront and say “I didn’t hear you, what was that?”. Let me also point out that hearing loss isn’t usually uniform, and that restating can sometimes avoid a sticky frequency problem better than turning up the volume..

          • Or how about when they repeat the part you DID hear, the latter part, instead of the part at the beginning, which you missed because you didn’t realize they were speaking to you at first?

          • Yeah. I’ve got some attentional stuff going on, and I’ve asked Mrs. Thneed to please start any statement to me with my name, because my brain goes on wild travels sometimes. Even in 2 minutes. That helps.

          • It may not be attentional stuff at all Thneedle. When you’re in an open space, and there are a lot of conversations going on that don’t concern you, it’s really helpful to be able to shut things down and concentrate on your stuff. So it’s really important to address people by name to get their attention before you say something to them.. Otherwise nobody’d ever get anything done :-).

          • Unagi — thank you for your kind words, but it’s an Actual Diagnosis(tm): I’ve got adhd, and didn’t know until adulthood. It explained a hell of a lot, lemme tell you.

        • I love doing this with racists. “Oh, please do explain that innuendo you just made about black people.” Sometimes also works for bigoted “jokes” of other varieties!

      • Ha, I love that description! Conversational Judo! I am a big fan of this approach when someone tells a joke/makes a comment that I feel is inappropriate or offensive. Usually people who do this kind of thing totally know that it’s wrong and is making someone uncomfortable, and are relying on how much most people hate confrontation to get away with it. I hate confrontation too, but I also hate dick moves, and sweetly asking someone to explain what they meant about the White House is called that for a reason, because isn’t the White House actually painted white? I don’t get what you were trying to say? will make them really uncomfortable. I try to make this the only situation where I deploy passive-aggression.

        • I do that all the time, too. Mostly to ruin normal jokes, but yeah, it works really well for racist/sexist/etc jokes. Having to explain exactly how they’re a jackass usually makes people shut up.

  2. “Listen, I didn’t want to be a petty jerk before, but this guy openly displayed the procedure memo upside down in his cube as a way to say F-U. That would be fine if he could actually do the work, but now that he’s shown that he can’t, I feel pretty justified in calling it out as disrespectful. Back me up?”

    Man, I love that line. That is some practical social science right there. I can see myself setting up a lot of little ‘if this person was really acting this way because of this thing this person claims, then why is it not happening, AND also making me miserable?” That’s awesome. I might even have a parlor scene.

    • Ideally, as a worker, you are both good at your job and easy to get along with.

      If you’re REALLY good at your job, you might be able to get away with being hard to get along with…for a while.

      If you’re easy to get along with but not so great at your job, you can also function for a while with the advantage that people will put some time into helping you be better at your job because they like you.

      If you’re both bad at your job and unpleasant, reap the whirlwind.

      Honestly, sometimes just having your boss fucking straight up FIRE someone for being an incompetent asshole is the best thing that can happen to a team’s morale and performance.

  3. LW #2, do what the Captain said and realize that, eventually, you’re going to be using the Captain’s technique to go in for the kill. By which I mean, you’re going to allow your incompetent coworkers to look so incompetent that you can easily go to your boss to get them fired. If they don’t pick up the slack (and some of them won’t if there are multiple ones within your office), you need to be ready to push, in a professional manner, for their termination and, to keep yourself happy in your work (or not-as-miserable), you need to be okay with telling your boss “these people are completely incompetent; here is the evidence; I was hoping we could have this addressed.” And addressed will most likely mean fired and you aren’t mean for doing so and it’s important to be willing to do this.

    • LW2 here. I already have the opportunity to send the suggested email to him CCing our boss. (For reference, I sent the email to CA yesterday — it didn’t take long.) So I’ll probably do that tomorrow.

      I don’t have too much hope in anyone actually getting fired for their incompetence, though. This kind of stuff has been raised time and time again to our boss (with evidence of issues), and she regularly complains to me about just how little work they actually do. But I’ve been made to understand it’s pretty difficult to fire people because of some policies we have. Required six month improvement plan before anyone gets fired, which my boss does not have the time to draft and administer because her job should actually be two jobs. She’s too important to many of our technical processes to have time left to manage people, unfortunately. It’s not an ideal situation, but budget stuff I guess? This situation with the people who do very little work has been going on for over a year now.

      All that said, the job pays well, it is sometimes satisfying, I’ve learned a lot, I work with some really cool people to even out the ones I don’t care for as much, and my boss is awesome. Not enough bad shit to leave over, just sometimes very frustrating.

      • …This might be more work than you would like to do, but is there any tech-specific way you could volunteer to do some of the improvement-plan-writing work for her? Could you lay out exactly where these people constantly fall flat, such that your document could be developed into a memo for her to send to them about a list of skills they need to update and implement by x date? I realize that it’s not your job (or in your power) to manage these people, but maybe it would help if you could do her due diligence as Lt. Savvy. You already took a leadership role in diagnosing a tech-ineptitude issue and implementing a tutorial solution, so?

      • I am suspicious that it’s a lot less “budget stuff” and a lot more, your boss prefers the tech side of things and hates the managing stuff, so she just lets it fall.

        A boss who is repeatedly being told “we need to do something about problematic workers” and who doesn’t address that? Is a bad boss. Not a “hands off” one.

        • The way the economy is these days, a lot of people are doing the work of two jobs because their organizations can’t/won’t hire enough people. I know enough people in that situation. I don’t think there’s any evidence that the boss is claiming to be overworked while she secretly just hates the managing stuff.

          Either way, though, the effect is the same, which is that she’s not managing well. And whether or not it’s her fault, it still sucks for everyone else in the office.

          • It’s weird, though, isn’t it? You’d think, with the economy being sucky pretty much everywhere for nearly a decade, that companies would at least have been winnowing constructively, and that with the odds of getting a new job to replace their current one being less than stellar, employees would be working really hard to show their value.

            But no! My husband’s company has been through multiple rounds of layoffs, and he’s repeatedly seen good people let go while losers who not very discreetly played computer solitaire and napped at their desks would get retained! These people would do that even between the announcement “layoffs coming at the end of the month,” and the identification of who got the axe! They would moan and complain when asked to do their jobs, do the minimum to show they had a pulse, not care that their laziness meant inferior product and/or missed deadlines that would piss off customers and make the division less successful and lead to more rounds of layoffs… and get to stay! Only in the last round did two in particular I’m thinking of finally get cut, and that’s because something like 70% of the workforce did. Happily (knock wood) my husband has also kept his job, so at least we haven’t had to feel the outrage at him getting axed while some solitaire-playing, desk-napping dud got to keep collecting a paycheck… but it has been incredibly frustrating and upsetting for my husband to watch upper management get it so wrong, over and over.

          • alphakitty – I don’t know if this will help your husband, but sometimes there are people whom it’s simply too expensive to make redundant, especially if they’ve been there a long time and have been employed under contract terms that companies simply wouldn’t offer these days. So dead wood is left unpruned a lot longer than it should be because the company are essentially trying to wait them out, hoping they’ll either leave or retire. The management may well know that they’re lazy and unproductive, but the cost of keeping them is (sadly) less than the cost of getting rid of them.

          • Regrettably, it seems to be more that the lazy-asses are just really good suckups, and not above taking credit for other people’s work. While people who are good at the actual work, but less talented at self-promotion take the hits, because only the folks in the trenches know who really saw the project through. Fortunately, my husband has gotten better at highlighting (and documenting) his own accomplishments over the years (although it is not his nature), as he has come to appreciate that sometimes it matters more than all your other job skills combined. Which may be part of how he has been retained. It’s still annoying to watch the whole dynamic play out.

          • at my last job, we had 4 reorgs in 1 year. (I left voluntarily after failing to get laid off all four times, despite fervently hoping for it and in one case straight-up volunteering.)

            it became evident after each one that the people in charge of most of the decisionmaking had no idea what we actually did, in our jobs. Crucial job processes got left completely undone, or done by people who were already fulltime at new positions, because someone up the ladder had no idea it was a thing that even happened. Other processes went unassigned because someone thought they had been automated. Other processes were documented and taught to new people even though they actually did not work at all. Employees in some departments sat twiddling their thumbs and begging their managers for work, while those same managers told other departments no, they couldn’t take on any projects, they were swamped and unable to cope.

            It was kind of an amazing experience, because it was a large, growing, and profitable company despite all this. But mostly it was just frustrating and stressful, including the part where people were let go or moved around seemingly at random under the guise of “reorganization”.

          • I absolutely believe that the boss is overworked. Just that the tasks she’s choosing to focus on don’t include the ‘boss’ stuff.

      • I like piny1′s advice, here. In a few of the office-type jobs I’ve had, overworked managers have had “unofficial” subordinates taking on semi-supervisory roles. It’s not uncommon for people to take on a few extra responsibilities without getting paid for it, and looks great on your CV. You’ve already assisted the training of staff with your document and various memos, which I hope is recognised by your manager and on record for any potential reviews that could earn you promotion/pay increase.

        If your manager agrees, all they need to do is send out an internal email explaining that “I understand that some members of staff are having difficulty with [WORK THING]. I, manager, wish to conduct some reviews and personal improvement plans for staff. LW will be assisting me with this…” with a bit more manager-speak stuff added in for good measure. Everyone knows “LW is helping me” means “LW is doing it for me”, but with boss-granted authority you can at least have talks with struggling staff, discuss where they are falling behind, write out a personal improvement plan with bullet pointed things to improve, support they think they need and a timescale and get them to sign it. You can even include in that things like

        “[NAME] will ensure all project work is completed according to spec. Support provided: Document I created for this purpose printed out, made clearly visible and accessible in cubicle and referenced regularly.”

        Give a short-ish but reasonable timescale – three months – and revisit the PIP then. It’s a first step to successfully getting rid of people who are unwilling to improve.

      • Meanwhile, LW2, are your projects suffering from incompetent staff, and are you being held responsible for that? Let me suggest containment. I was once saddled with a project with one of the dumbest people I’ve ever met (who was functioning as yes-person for office-bully-on-the-way-up-the-ladder). I was very pleased when I found something very contained, but also very visible to management, that I could assign solely to them. Every week some higher-up nearly choked on his doughnut when seeing the horrible state of the site’s new front page :-). And when it became urgent to have a real one, it only took me 2h to slip mine in.

        So while I think piny1′s advice is excellent, and should be followed, I’d also advise partitioning up the work, openly reserving the more interesting/stimulating bits for the savvies. It’ll serve as notice to the recalcitrant that they will be held accountable, eventually, and perhaps stimulate some of them to get with the program. And it’ll serve as a flag of hope for the savvies, something essential so they don’t end up trickling away before you can resolve the situation. The best people leave first in this kind of situation you know, and this isn’t something you want to add to your woes.

  4. As usual, spot on advice!

    LW1–I second the “Thank you, I’m not worried.” She may be kind of insecure herself or projecting. It sounds like you have a lot of good relationships at work and that everyone knows you have stuff under control. I also like Gine’s advice.

    LW2–I second CA’s advice. Let this worker trip themselves up. Their refusal to do what they should be doing is not your problem. I used to get all mired in the muck of what other people were/were not doing. Don’t do this. If they fuck up, send the email with the cc to your boss.

    Don’t take the bait they’re dangling in front of you (putting the sheet upside-down behind their monitor is bait). Don’t even acknowledge it. If they spend all day on Youtube or whatever, that’s on them. That’s between them and the boss. I know it isn’t fair. It’s also not your fight and it’s not worth your energy.

    And FWIW, I use emoticons very sparingly. They don’t feel professional to me.

    • I very rarely use emoticons in my work email either, and when I do it will be with someone I’ve emailed back and forth with a fair amount or talk to quite a bit in the office (so, maybe three or four of my coworkers and 1-3 of my contacts at power companies).

      One of my main jobs is as the final gatekeeper before payments are sent out to be processed, so I’m in a position to catch a LOT of errors. Luckily we can get by by teasingly shaming people, and particular kinds of errors I will walk the form back to someone’s desk and physically hand it to them to fix, but that probably wouldn’t work too well when the problem-people you work with dislike or resent you (I suspect resent, but it doesn’t really matter exactly what it is). When it was someone who I’d barely met who was making huge numbers of mistakes we eventually brought it up to our supervisor, and the next week her daughter (who works there too) took home a folder to go through and double check. Apparently she thought it would take about half an hour. It took three hours. Suddenly there stopped being nearly so many mistakes so I can only assume they had Words; certainly they were both pretty unimpressed when they realised exactly how bad it was. I think the main part of that strategy that can be taken away is the same as the Captain’s advice – letting people with the authority see the incompetence. Even if they don’t/can’t do anything about it sometimes just the fact of knowing the boss can see your fail is enough of a shame to make people shape up.

    • I teach professional communication and the number of students who think they can defuse a tough situation by throwing in an emoticon is just appalling to me.

  5. LW1, I definitely agree to clarify the review thing. This person might think she is actually your supervisor, as opposed to lead on the foobar project. Those are different kinds of authority!

    Right now she’s not trying to boss you too much, just in small annoying ways, and you’re pretty chill; but you don’t know what might happen in a year or so. The longer a pattern goes on, the harder it is to break, no matter what the lines say on the paper org chart.

    I don’t think you have to have the whole “You’re not the boss of me!!” discussion now, keeping things that are clearly Supervisor Things with your actual supervisor is key. You might also mention to said supervisor when overstepping happens. It sets up a paper trail, for one, and also, well it should not actually be your job to manage your coworker to not be your boss when she’s not your boss, you know? That’s part of your boss’s job.

    Again, I don’t think it has to be a big thing right now, just a cc on the email when you push back using the captain’s script about the review.

    • I agree with Carbonated, LW1, the longer the situation goes on the longer it’ll be to break. As always CA’s advice is very good, and you should try that. But if it doesn’t work, you may consider something a bit more proactive. When you end up having a talk about your performance on the project (make sure you firmly derail any attempt to make it larger than the project “oh, that’s not about this project, Real Manager has already addressed that”), you can also end cheerfully by give her feedback, since you’re basically a peer. Be sure to compliment her on how thoughtful she’s being, how sweet that she’s always so worried that you’re flustered, how good it is to have someone so young take her new management role so seriously… Repeat that compliment in public as needed.

      • I’d leave off the bit about being young, though – it can come across as condescending and/or dismissive (replace “so young” with “female” or “short” or “blonde,” for example), and treating her the same way she’s treating LW1 won’t help any.

        • Well, I said “young” because it sounds like there’s some of that going on – perhaps translating badly LW’s “maternal” into condescending on an ageist level. I think it can work to treat her the same way as she does LW, not systematically of course but as a one-shot thing. Both so she realizes that it is noticed, and so she realizes how absurd it is to be condescendingly ageist to someone older than you :-). If she’s young enough, 3 years can seem like a lot, especially if they’re 3 years of work experience, even though in 10 years it’d have become a fleck. I’d hope she’s mostly insecure, but if she’s centering on the age thing she needs to be called on that specifically. In my opinion, of course..

  6. LW #2, totally agree that you need to pick your battles. Specifically, I think you should only go to the mat on things that you would be willing to escalate to your supervisor. If you know, for example, that it’s not worth taking the memo thing to your boss, then it’s not worth raising it — both because this dude being a snotty brat about the memo is rude but not something that directly screw up your projects, and because you don’t have anything to back yourself up with if you get into it with him and he doesn’t back down (because he is the aforementioned snotty brat). If you dig in on the issue and then ultimately have to let it go, you just end up undermining yourself.

    If I were you, I would focus on measurable things that directly impact the work your team is putting out. If your boss is “hands off” (which far too often is code for “don’t want to bother supervising so abdicates responsibility for making sure things are running smoothly until a disaster occurs and then wants to know why the hell things went wrong”), he’s going to be resistant to dealing with the interpersonal side of things and will tell you to work it out yourselves. But if there are specific problems with the work product itself — errors in work, people who produce less work than their team members, people who can’t handle computer tasks they were hired to do — it’s more likely that he will be willing to take those issues seriously and will get involved in fixing them, because he will be accountable to HIS boss for those problems.

    Which is to say: the Captain’s advice is great. Let this guy be a dick about hanging the list up in his cublicle. Either he won’t make errors, in which case you can overlook him being a dick for the sake of an overall win, or he will, in which case you can make the issue about him repeatedly having these errors in his work. I wouldn’t ever raise the memo issue except as an example of the support he’s been given and the steps you’ve taken to fix the issue: “Eric, I asked you to meet with me and Supervisor because you work continues to have X error in it on a regular basis. I circulated a detailed process for avoiding X error, and I asked that you keep that process posted next to your computer so you could reference it while you worked. Can you tell me what it is that is still causing you to make this error?”

    I’ll also throw out there that even though being self-directed is really important in your industry, some of your co-workers just… aren’t. If you can work around them, then maybe it’s just easier for everyone to let them sleep on their desks while the competent people do the work. But if you really do need them to use HTML and they aren’t figuring it out on their own, then you may need to take steps to fix that (either by giving them a cheat sheet on HTML, or holding a training session yourself, or asking how many of them don’t know how to use it and then reporting that to your boss with a request that he arrange some training). Likewise, once you know that someone is really not a good worker, you may want to check in on their work more frequently than every six months because even if they should know how to do their job, if they don’t it will take way longer to fix the longer they keep making the same mistakes. It’s not your fault that they suck at their jobs and aren’t doing anything to address that, but if you’re in charge of the team then you’re the one who has to find ways to get the best work possible out of these people. And bad co-workers generally need more active management than good co-workers.

    • LW2 was plain that hizzer boss is a woman.

    • I explained a little more below, but I’ve done the different approaches for different learning styles thing for quite a while now. Sometimes someone is just not a great fit for a job.

      My boss is also real cool, just very overextended. I’m unhappy with how hands-off she is, but it’s not entirely her fault, and I’ve had way worse bosses.

      • Look, those are excuses. Management is her job, every bit as much as finishing projects is Cube Jerk’s job. You wouldn’t be impressed if a co-worker told you CJ was really pretty cool and anyway she’s worked with lazier people, right?

        Granted, your boss is not sloping around playing Tetris instead of work, but “cool” or not, she is doing

        • The ‘two jobs instead of one’ comment explains it all pretty clearly to me. I’ve had my share of godawful managers who have zero interest in actually doing any management, but I’ve also seen plenty of managers who have somehow fallen into a position where they are doing a full time distinct job AND managing a team. And the business invariably prioritises the full time job and treats the team management as an optional side project for the person.

          Don’t forget, the boss likely has her own boss, too, who is prioritising her work and setting requirements. You typically do the work that is prioritised for you, and if this boss is being pressured for results rather than exceptional management, you can bet she’ll be focusing on the former.

          • Ding ding ding!

          • There is another issue that I have struggled with having a slacker coworker, he’s likable and he does the minimum needed even if it’s not done well. My manager can’t fire people, it’s that simple, he’s incapable and he personally likes slacker dude. And another thing you run into when a slacker has been around a long time is how does the manager say suddenly there is a problem? The first question is; this guy worked for you 4 years, why is there a problem now. This is the wall I am at with my boss – he finally stops making excuses. Then the slacker dude really blew a major deliverable that resulted in my boss, myself and another coworker putting in extended hours/weekend to fix. I think, FINALLY he’s done something that is ACTIONABLE, but no, Boss sez he cannot get rid of slacker dude due to time lapse I explained above.

            I stay because I get to telecommute and I have made a boundary that I will not work uncomp to make up for slacker dude anymore.

          • Which means that Boss is letting LW2 pick up her slack. And if LW2′s performance suffers because she’s doing the training and management and not getting any backup on slacker co-workers, do you think Boss is going to jump up at review time and say “Hey, don’t take it out on LW2, it’s not hir fault that you guys overwork me so that I can’t be arsed to actually do management stuff”? If LW2 says that zie can’t get things done because of so much time being eaten up dealing with slackers, is Boss going to take that up the ladder for LW2 to try and fix the situation? Boss either can’t or won’t fix her own work situation. I’m not betting that her “hands off” approach is going to in any way sticking her neck out to keep LW2 from getting into a catch-22 at work.

            Please understand, ‘m not saying Boss is a horrible human being or trying to ruin LW2. Just that forcing LW2 to take on extra management work (without the extra management status and pay, hmmmm) is not fair. It’s not LW2′s fault that Boss is overloaded and it shouldn’t be LW2′s job to make up for the fact that Boss can’t, or won’t, make any changes that actually allow her to, you know, Boss.

            (Seriously, LW2, the easy advice her is to find work elsewhere at a functional company, but I know that’s tough in this job market.)

          • I think my comment got eaten (again!) by the spam filter, but: While this is all probably true, Boss is making it LW2′s problem, which it SHOULD NOT BE. It is not LW2′s fault that Boss is overworked, that Boss is unable or unwilling to take this up with higher management, or that Boss is choosing to allot her time to ‘everything but management’. Boss is making it harder for LW2 to do LW2′s work. This isn’t fair and the fact that Boss is overworked doesn’t make it OK to treat LW2 this way.

            I’m also guessing that when review time comes around, if there is anything negative that comes from higher-ups about LW2, Boss is not going to leap to her feet and say “Hey, that’s not LW2′s fault, zie is overworked because you bozos overwork ME and I can’t give LW2 the assistance and supervision zie needs.”

            I’m not saying Boss is a horrible human being. Only that Boss is making her problems LW2′s problems, and whether that is because of a crappy work environment or anything else is NOT LW2′S FAULT.

            LW2, I know the economy is shitty so I’m not going to blithely say ‘oh, quit and go work elsewhere’, but, yeah, if you get the opportunity, finding a less dysfunctional working environment would probably be a good thing.

  7. I have to admit, I sort of feel for LW376′s “unsavvies.” I myself find it very easy to learn new programs by reading or using online help, but not everybody learns the same way. From the unsavvies’ point of view, they’ve asked repeatedly for more training (i.e. from training that they can learn from), and instead, all they get is more of the same. Plus, do you think they don’t know that their co-workers call them by an unflattering nickname??

    Is there any possibility of bringing in an outside trainer who can take different learning styles into account?

    I’m not necessarily saying that this will solve the problem of their being unable or unwilling to do their work, but it WILL solve the problem of their having asked for training and not received it.

    • I feel for the “unsavvies” too. The LW said that Excel and HTML are “best learned by googling/exploring on your own,” but that isn’t everyone’s learning style. Some of the “unsavvies”‘ demands are a little ridiculous–like using more emoticons in IMing, really?–but their desire for more training is valid. I agree that an outside trainer would be a good idea, as it wouldn’t take away time from the LW and fellow “savvies.”

      • Even the IM thing… yeah, the demand itself is super-petty, but actually I remember the Great All Caps War month in my office: a co-worker (a project manager) would not believe that all caps emails are read as shouting, and the people he worked with could not believe he wouldn’t do them the basic courtesy of not sending shouty emails. It ended up surprisingly high in management (whose reaction was “WTF? he will email you how he emails you”). It was, you may not be surprised to hear, not the only or first difficult part of the relationship between that PM and the team I was in. It was just something that we felt we could really clearly identify and complain about.

        What could be going on here is that the “unsavvies” are hugely micromanaging of their interactions with the “savvies”, yes, or it could be that they’re asking for the simplest courtesies they can think of “hey when you say ‘do it today, this is the easiest thing I have ever asked for, failure is not an option, I can’t believe you even asked this stupid question’ can you maybe stick a smiley on that so that it sounds less like the most insulting thing someone has ever said about my work?” (It’s also probably a demand they think of as “easy”. Like “type the two extra characters, how much work is that?”)

        Actually, it could easily be both. Probably is. So basically I took it as a sign of a pretty toxic work environment as others are picking up. When people start to insist on very specific styles of communication, often a lot of trust has been lost and everyone is reading/hearing everyone else’s communications in bad faith and getting butthurt every time while at the same time thinking “how hard is it to say please more often LIKE I ASKED FOR YOU EVIL PERSON?”

        I don’t, in the end, have a lot of advice, unfortunately, other than identifying that LW376 is possibly in the middle of a pretty big pool of seething resentment. I tend to “fix” work environments like that by leaving, people with more management experience may have useful thoughts! (As the Captain herself does.)

        • “When people start to insist on very specific styles of communication, often a lot of trust has been lost and everyone is reading/hearing everyone else’s communications in bad faith and getting butthurt every time while at the same time thinking “how hard is it to say please more often LIKE I ASKED FOR YOU EVIL PERSON?””

          Whoa. You just explained the majority of the tension at my last job. I just…. I need to soak this up for bit.

    • yeah – as a super tech-savvy person myself (in a decidedly non-tech-savvy industry (law)), I actually just feel bad for the non-savvies. it seels like LW2 is in a tech-savvy-required industry, so I can understand giving less slack to people who claimed to have such expertise and then…don’t, but sometimes also technology passes people by, especially as they age. At my old firm, my secretary could barely use a computer for more than typing. It was obviously a problem in this day and age when anything and everything is done that way, but if you needed someone to take dictation in shorthand, she was an absolute master, because that was the “technology” she was raised/taught on.

    • I would feel bad for them, except that LW2 notes that they claimed during the interview process to have these skills, and now it turns out that they don’t. That’s like the universally understood Ultimate Do-Not when it comes to jobs, I thought.

      • I wonder whether they understood the question differently than the people asking it. Like someone saying “of course I can cook” when they mean they can make boiled eggs or microwave a meal, and what you want to know is whether they can do more complicated things from scratch.

        I was talking to a recruiter yesterday, and told him “I’ve hand-coded HTML, but not lately, so I would probably need to spend a little while looking at HTML5.” (If I am sensible, I will put some time into this in the next few days.) Someone else might think that knowing HTML is like knowing how to type or do arithmetic, that they’ve learned it once and therefore they know it. And that person, who may be less up on HTML than I am, is more likely to just say “Yes, I know HTML.”

        Still frustrating for LW, but maybe not dishonest.

        • When I was first of out undergrad and had used word and excel for their super basic functions (write a paper, add up a column of numbers), I put them on resumes without knowing that I didn’t actually know how to do a bunch of stuff that many employers would want me to know how to do with the programs. It worked out fine, because I got jobs on the strength of other skills and picked up the higher functions of word and excel on the fly, but I can totally see someone with just my college experiences and fewer overall tech skills getting into a really bad situation.

          If this is an ongoing hiring problem for this company and it’s hard to get rid of people, maybe changing up interview questions is in order? You could throw in a technical question or ask them to describe some projects that they’ve worked on, so that if they don’t actually know what they’re talking about it’s more obvious. It’s easy to say, “oh, yes I use excel all the time,” when you don’t, or have only used it for keeping a roster or something, and much harder to pretend to technical knowledge you don’t have, or to describe doing something that you’ve never done when you’re asked for details.

          • I was going to suggest a test during their interview? I have often been tested as part of the interview process, on all manner of subjects. If HTML or Excel are required parts of their job, they should have to demonstrate the skills to be hired.

        • Hm, that could certainly be the case, you’re right. I mean, I edited some of the HTML on our site just today, but I’d never put HTML proficiency on my resume – but that may be a case of me knowing enough to know what I don’t know.

          I’d agree with Siobhan Kelly below, about including a skills assessment in their interview process, but… I guess that doesn’t help LW with this particular problem right now.

          • I struggle with that. I put on my resume that I know basic HTML, but how much I know in some ways depends on the company. For someone who can code fluidly from scratch, I know nothing. For someone who is intimidated at the sight of a page of code and can’t make heads or tails of it, I know a lot.

            I certainly hope that if I ever interview for a job where HTML knowledge is strongly needed, they give a test and know where I am beyond a few vague questions.

        • Eh, I’m betting more on the side of resume-padding. “Oh, put down that you know HTML, you made a web page once!” Interview questions tend to be a little more specific than ‘do you know Excel’, and anyway, if you got to a job and found out that you suddenly needed to know a lot more about the tools, wouldn’t you make some effort to bring yourself up to speed?

        • Or there is always the Dunning Kruger Effect to explain this;
          Across four studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability.

          Meanwhile, people with true ability tended to underestimate their relative competence. Roughly, participants who found tasks to be relatively easy erroneously assumed, to some extent, that the tasks must also be easy for others.

        • Yes! The nonspecific nature of questions like “can you use Excel” can trip people up, both directions.

          I have to be careful in interviews to find out exactly what they mean by “can you use X” because I can’t do anything complicated in most programs (Excel, Quickbooks, etc) but I can use them competently for most office purposes, and learn new functions as needed. It’s easy for me to undersell because I’m so aware of how limited my knowledge is, while others may feel very competent and oversell just by never having tried to do more complicated things.

          It’s really frustrating, but hiring managers often don’t do any of the parts of their supervisees jobs, so can’t ask very good questions about them.

  8. It might also not hurt to keep track of who is noticing the errors, how often they are occurring, are they the same error every time, etc. Just to CYA, so that crappy mean co-worker can’t claim that they did it right and you just have it in for them.

  9. LW1: could it also be possible that before you started, someone pulled non-supervisor aside and told her that it was part of her (informal) responsiblity to orientate/mentor/look out for you as the newbie hire? and her being relatively young-ish and newish as well and not necessarily having experience doing that before, she is overcompensating on that front? so that the (perhaps boss) person who gave her this direction sees that she’s carrying out their wishes? Just a thought – it might put her behavior in a different perspective.

    • Very good point. It doesn’t fully matter exactly why this is happening or what is going on, but there are many, many advantages to the LW in remaining chill.

    • I agree. I was going to suggest that LW1 perhaps clarify her relationship to her work mom with her supervisor? Just to avoid any confusion? Perhaps mention that she offered to do a review and then just say that while the LW respects her senior position, she didn’t think that work mom was technically her supervisor?

      I would probably only do that if I thought the supervisor would just be hands off and chill about their response. If they seem likely to get all territorial I’d probably just handle it myself.

      I’ve had issues in the past where I was doing work for someone and then they suddenly felt like they were in charge of me, but there is a difference between “internal client” and “boss.” Sometimes that distinction can be hard. I like to make sure my actual boss knows when other people have decided to boss me.

  10. LW2 – It’s infuriating that he’s so disrespectful to you (and his job, quite frankly), but you’ve given him and everyone else in the office the tools to succeed. He chose to pick up the shovel and dig his own grave. Let him fail.

  11. LW2, I am in a very similar situation to you (senior and youngest on my team, frustrated with a slower member), and I want to discuss something in your letter:

    “Anyway, recently in an effort to provide “more training” I compiled a document outlining one of the processes I oversee that everyone on my team is responsible for completing regularly. The information had been provided verbally in initial training and casually in a few emails, but there were still a lot of oversights occurring.”

    I think this is the core of the friction you are experiencing – not lazy co-workers or the mean guy who hung your guide upside down. No. It is plainly about different learning and working styles.

    Your unsavvy co-workers are not self-motivating autodidacts like you and I. No matter how many documents you give them and websites you forward them, their knowledge is not going to grow. Through no fault or defect of their own, they are not the kind of learners who take a quick mental snapshot of a process and then refer to a guide as needed. They may have many other problems, but that is not one of them.

    You gave them an initial training, but it sounds as though they are more experiential learners. Your telling them to keep something posted in their cube would fix YOUR kind of problem with learning, but not theirs – and, it ticked some of them off.

    Given their request for more compassion in addition to training, I’m thinking these folks will learn better with personal 1:1 interactions. Have you tried working an actual project through from start to finish with them, either side by side or with regular check-ins NOT for you to correct them but for THEM to ask questions? Or, having a daily “walk-in” hour or “quick fixes” meeting that’s only for their questions for the savvier staff? Do they have some skills (possibly soft skills) that YOU could benefit from learning?

    I know that sounds very painful. Really, I do. I have a colleague right now who makes me feel like I am working with a particularly forgetful goldfish with a persecution complex and bad time management skills. But, you know what? That crazy unsavvy goldfish somehow awesome at getting a significant portion of her work delivered, and sometime it’s my job to help her (even if I have to stab myself in the leg with a pen the entire time I’m doing it).

    My point is that it has been hard for me to understand that people can approach my work with different skills and strategies and be equally as successful as one another. Sometimes I think because I am the quickest and most innovative (and, frequently, the loudest), I am naturally the best and people who do it another way are WRONG (and possibly lazy and dumb).

    While that’s sometimes the case, it’s not always. I think Jennifer’s advice to you is great when it comes to the one prickly fellow in the unsavvy gang, but I suspect if you keep doing things the way you (and, sometimes I) are doing them he will not be the last roadblock you encounter. If you bring your message to the place where they can hear it, you might find some of your unsavvy co-workers are great resources and allies.

    And, if not, you have more ammo to use when you complain to your boss about them afterwards.

    • Wise words!

    • +1 As another self-motivating autodidact, seconded.

    • Thirded! This is great advice.

    • Fourthed! If there are online courses or suchlike they could do, email them the links and ask them to complete them? Or maybe you could organise a noticeboard where if anyone find cool/useful resources they put up the info? That way those who want to improve their skills can do so, and if the others don’t, you’ve got even more ammo for that meeting with your boss.

    • Brilliant assessment of the overall working environment, which is not constructive.

      • “I’m thinking these folks will learn better with personal 1:1 interactions. Have you tried working an actual project through from start to finish with them, either side by side or with regular check-ins NOT for you to correct them but for THEM to ask questions? Or, having a daily “walk-in” hour or “quick fixes” meeting that’s only for their questions for the savvier staff? Do they have some skills (possibly soft skills) that YOU could benefit from learning?”

        The above is extremely constructive.

        Another idea is for the unsavvies to be paired with savvies. The savvies can mentor the unsavvies about the advancements in tech – this means that you don’t have to spend money on a trainer and they still get 1 on 1 face time with a person.
        We’re doing it at my work for our network’s migration over to Google Apps – I volunteered to be trained up (yay! free training paid for by my work) and I show others at my workplace how to use Google Apps.
        Yes, it means that I’ll have less time doing my own work, but I really like that I’m going to be a more valued member of the team for this. Present this as a leadership opportunity for your savvies and have a little workshop with them on how to be a good and understanding mentor (explaining about different learning styles will be an essential piece of that understanding). This would be an effective way to bridge the gap between them and maybe even create workplace harmony (or it could be a disaster – be careful about whom you partner with whom).

    • Just for reference, I have tried a lot of this stuff. The specific question wasn’t so much about the working environment as this specific issue, but was more background to understand that the environment is, as you said, pretty toxic. I didn’t want to write a novel in so I tried to keep it short.

      But, every one of them has received multiple one-on-one trainings, group trainings, documentation with screenshots, showing them how to do something, having them do it themselves while I sit with them to answer questions, and making mock ups for them to fix issues and practice in. I am aware of and trying to compensate for differing learning styles. I’ve also participated in trainings to learn more, as well as a workshop for improving individualized feedback, etc. I’m not perfect by a long shot, and I have improved a lot since some of the issues were raised (Ex: I use emoticons now. I think they’re dumb, but I don’t mind using them if it makes communications easier for them.)

      The thing is, my main function is not as a trainer so I cannot train on every thing that comes up, because so much of our work fluctuates and is unpredictable: “this happened, figure out how to fix it.” I can’t create a training on something while I’m putting out the fire, and step by step instructions can’t be created before we’ve ever experienced the issue. We tried focusing in on major areas where the training was lacking by asking them, but nobody could identify specific areas where they were struggling. 90% of the time I ask if there are any questions at the end of a one-on-one hands-on training, I’m met with, “nope, none right now!”

      Today I found out that this guy has been skipping a major task for the entire time he’s worked here because a website didn’t work. He never raised this with me or asked for help. He just didn’t complete the task. I can’t mindread, nor force people to ask me questions. I suppose they could think I’m just too unapproachable, but like I said, I’ve made an effort to meet halfway.

      I don’t think they’re terrible people, but there are some times when somebody simply is a bad fir for a job, and it just is what it is. Whether they exaggerated in the interview or just didn’t understand the breadth of what would be required of them, it’s still the same issue at the crux: they would probably be happier and more successful doing something else. I was in that situation in another job and I ended up leaving the position because I was in over my skill level. In a different position, I’m much happier.

      • Yeah, it sounds like it might be time to insist the boss gets involved, overextension notwithstanding. That list of complaints might come in handy in convincing her it’s a worthwhile investment. Good luck. This sounds suuuuuper frustrating. And now I actually wonder if I know you…. This sounds familiar, but that might just be life being weird :)

        • I’m starting to agree after reading through the comments. It’s unfortunate that your boss is overextended, but ultimately that’s not your problem. Her coworkers have to be able to expect that she’ll do her job; if she can’t, the onus is on her to go to *her* boss and try to sort out a redistribution of labor, get permission to delegate out some of these responsibilities differently, etc. I agree that your environment sounds toxic and you might not be able to fix it through actions of your own (though the Captain’s suggestions might offer your best chance of doing so!). I’m not good at developing these scripts myself, but there probably is a good one you or other commenters can put together for approaching your boss about this.

        • If/when you do need to get your boss involved, I’d suggest a script along the lines of:

          “I know you have tons of responsibilities that have nothing to do with our team, and I imagine that what you’d like best is for our team not just to do our jobs effectively, but to do them with as little hands-on management from you as possible. And I’ve been trying to do that — but the problem is, a couple of members of the team don’t seem to have either the skills necessary to do their jobs adequately, the motivation to acquire those skills, or the motivation to apply skills they do have.

          I’ve tried group training, individual training…. [stuff you've tried]. I’ve even written up a “cheat sheet” with the procedures to follow, so people don’t even have to remember the steps, but there are still significant issues with some of the team members’ work [provide details on omissions]. At this point, it’s not clear to me whether __ and __ and __ can’t do the job and no amount of training will ever fix that, or whether they are choosing not to because, yeah — some of this stuff is tedious and nitpicky and not that much fun to do. It just also happens to be what we need to do to provide a quality product/service, satisfy our customers/clients, and stay profitable — and it’s why we get *paid* to do it.

          At some point it ceases to matter whether they can’t do the job or won’t do the job; what matters is that they’re not doing it. Their poor performance affects the quality of the team’s output, the timeliness of our work, and team morale, as other members of the team get resentful that they’re having to pick up slack for people who aren’t doing their jobs. And of course it reflects badly on all of us, because as a team we’re not getting out what we should be considering what we’re theoretically putting in.

          Unfortunately, there’s a limit to what I can do about it given that I have no actual direct-report-type authority over anyone and everyone knows it — ___ and ___ in particular seem to be the kind of people who act like anything that doesn’t come from a direct supervisor is just a suggestion, regardless of the fact that I’m in charge of this project.

          What I’ve come up with to address the situation is a memo “clarifying expectations” regarding both procedure and quality of work product, letting people know that they will judged by how well they have met these expectations come performance review time [or in the event of further staffing reductions?]. It says that you’ve asked me to track compliance with procedures and keep data on errors/omissions, and to report back to you on a monthly (or biweekly?) basis.

          At a minimum, I wanted to touch base with you about the memo before it goes out — to brainstorm any other ideas you have for handling the situation and make sure you agree with the expectations I’ve outlined, and check that it’s ok to say you’ve asked me to track the data — obviously, I can’t say that, or that people will be held accountable in the context of performance reviews, without your approval. But to be honest, what I’d like even better is for you to send the memo out over *your* signature, to give it that extra jolt of authority. In the best of all worlds, the memo will do the trick, people will step up, and I won’t have to bother you again — but if not, it would at least give you hard data on which to base any kind of corrective action plan you thought was appropriate.”

          Obviously, adapt as needed for your industry, your boss’s personality, etc. The idea is to demonstrate maturity, respect for her difficult position, ability to work independently (that you haven’t come whining to her at the first sign of difficulty, before trying to do as much as you can on your own) and awareness of the big picture (including that these folks may maker look bad), while effectively giving her a “kit” for handling the situation but not overstepping your authority.

      • Hi again, LW2. I have some specific responses to things you’ve said. You’re in a hard position here, having to teach yourself how to train & supervise thru on-the-job training, without a mentor, and when training itself is a distinct skill.

        You say:
        > But, every one of them has received multiple one-on-one trainings,
        > group trainings, documentation with screenshots, showing them how to do
        > something, having them do it themselves while I sit with them to answer questions,
        > and making mock ups for them to fix issues and practice in.

        If they aren’t learning, the trainings are not working. Period. The fault may be with the learners or with the trainers, but it’s still true.

        Any kind of training where the learner is merely receiving information is going to have a high failure rate. People need to DO to learn how do DO something. Out of the 6 things you mention above, only 2 of them are certain to include hands-on practice. (Do you actually take over the keyboard while you’re sitting with someone? That’s not gonna work.)

        Best evar: have them train each other. Teaching someone how to do something really cements it in your own head. And if they’re cross-trained, the whole team is in better shape for vacations or when someone is ill. AND if people are doing slightly different tasks, you may find that some folks have real preferences for what they do, and assignments could be moved around.

        You say:
        > (Ex: I use emoticons now. I think they’re dumb, but I don’t mind using them if it
        > makes communications easier for them.)

        Once upon a time, written language did not have any punctuation at all. It’s helpful, isn’t it? Emoticons are much the same. And by the way, if you use them, it’s making communication easier for them AND YOU.

        You say:
        > The thing is, my main function is not as a trainer so I cannot train on every thing
        > that comes up, because so much of our work fluctuates and is unpredictable: “this
        > happened, figure out how to fix it.”

        No, you’re right. You can’t train someone how to think creatively. But you can make sure that they have the tools to use, and the knowledge to use them.

        If they come to you with a problem, do they also bring a suggestion? Have you tried asking them what they would suggest? Or where they would start? Or do you just take off running and fix the problem? What would happen if you didn’t fix the problem?

        You say:
        > 90% of the time I ask if there are any questions at the end of a one-on-one
        > hands-on training, I’m met with, “nope, none right now!”

        Here’s a trainer’s trick: NO yes-or-no questions. Don’t ask “Do you have any questions” but rather “what questions do you have?” (Silence is also a good trick. Lots of people need a little silence to step into when they’re trying to formulate a question.)

        You say:
        > Today I found out that this guy has been skipping a major task for the entire time
        > he’s worked here because a website didn’t work. He never raised this with me or
        > asked for help. He just didn’t complete the task.

        And this was okay? Who needed the task done? If nobody noticed, maybe it’s not even necessary? This is a really specific thing, much better to work on this than on slippery “attitude problems”.

        Finally, one last thing: you’re treating people with a lack of respect, and that’s part of why they are reacting the way you describe. Such as:

        > This was after I asked her point blank if she understood and was completing
        > the task, and she said yes.

        Don’t ask people questions to which you know the answer. Don’t set people secret tests. It’s a relationship-killer for a reason. If you KNOW that she wasn’t understanding or completing, just tell her so. Don’t ask her. Don’t give her a chance to lie to you or sling bullshit around.

        > I sent a follow-up email in which I said I was still getting complaints, so I was
        > now requiring that everyone print the document, post it in their cube in an
        > easy-to-see place, and reference it frequently.

        Can you even see how dismissive this is? And can you see how you’re micro-managing? The RESULT you want is that people do their work a certain way. But the DEMAND you’re making is that people display a reference document.

        People need to have real, and reasonable, consequences to their actions. What happens when someone does something wrong? That’s where you need to change things up.

        • Totally agree. Mistakes should be addressed to the person who made them. And if there are processes that someone can ignore for their entire career without consequence, you, as a company, need to address why that process even exists. (If I skipped part of my job, everything would break and I’d have clients up my ass. If you can skip a whole part and no one even notices then it is just corporate BS.)

        • Honestly? This is not really what my question was about. And Jennifer pointed out that your commentary on the workplace environment is not really constructive.

          I’m really not going to get into my life story over here, but I’m making an effort to be accommodating to these coworkers, and I’m not a mind reader. I’ve asked them these things, I’ve tried so many different approaches, and I’m not asking questions to answers I already know. I was absolutely blown away when it turned out that one woman didn’t know the process. You’re really just assuming a lot of stuff I haven’t said, and it’s really patronizing.

          If you had been cleaning up after low-performers for over a year at your job (and getting paid less than them, by the way), would you find your advice appropriate?

      • Maybe you’ve already tried this, but is it possible for people on your team to pair up on some of the tasks that are challenging or commonly result in errors? Like, if Bob doesn’t know how to write HTML but Roberta does, Roberta and Bob could work on an HTML task together. (Look up “pair programming” for more information on how this is supposed to work–the important thing is that both partners are contributing.) That would allow training to get done without you, personally, having to do it.

      • Understood. I’ve recently been pushed into the position of training people while I am not by any stretch is a trainer. It’s not an easy place to be.

        I’m happy to hear that you’ve already anticipated/corrected for a lot of what i mentioned (no big surprise from another self-motivated autodidact, but it was worth asking), but I’m sad to know that it means that this issue really comes down to the work environment and the actions of your boss.

        I hope it turns out okay for you, with or without Jennifer’s action plan. It’s no fun or fair to be forced to dislike your job simply due to the actions (or lack thereof) of a few people around you.

      • From your e-mail it sounds like “processes not being followed correctly” is being handled as a group issue. I would encourage you to not handle it that way as much as possible. Training has been provided, documentation exists, it is no longer a group issue, it is a “these people can’t follow instructions” issue.

        I would make sure that feedback from other teams, or missed steps, or whatever issues arise be addressed by bringing it to the attention of the person who sucks and their immediate supervisor. This will also be a good start to a paper trail for the whole process improvement you’re fired situation.

        Also bringing the big boss in on every issue that arises has the added benefit of making this her problem. It IS her problem to fix, so don’t make it easy on her. Ultimately it is easier to manage competent employees than incompetent ones, except when your competent employees cover and do all the managing for you.

        Also, make sure that you have your slow learners fix their own mistakes. And don’t help them too much. Fixing your mistakes is a big part of getting better at things, so if the more savvy employees are covering for them you are keeping them from learning (and maybe enabling their laziness a bit.)

        • Agreed! No more “team needs to improve”. I know people often do this to avoid being seen as mean to any individual, but in my experience it generally has the opposite result. The person who actually made the mistake feels embarrassed and bullied to have the issue called out to the whole group, and the people who weren’t doing it wrong resent being lumped in with the person that made a mistake.

          If X project has a mistake, and the project was entirely Bob’s responsibility, send Bob an individual message. CC in your manager. Send a separate email to your manager about it, CCing in the person that needed the project/reported the error. The reporting person knows the issue is dealt with because THEY see YOU telling your Manager about it. Your Manager knows the issue is being addressed because they saw both emails, so know they don’t have to deal with reporter or Bob. Bob receives a more private – but totally official – notification of the error. If possible, follow up the email with a private in-person discussion of the error with Bob. Make sure you say in the email something like “I’ll pop over this PM so we can talk about ways to fix this/help you with these things going forward”. Whatever is discussed and/or agreed during the in-person discussion, confirm in email afterwards. “HI Bob, thanks for meeting with me today. This is just a quick email to confirm, you’ve requested more training on HTML. I’ve agreed to arrange for Jenny to mentor you on your next project, and we’ll work together on the latest project to fix X error.” CC in your Manager – and only your Manager.

          Save all these emails.

          This has the advantage of creating a paper trail that can help with removal of clearly uncooperative and failing coworkers, but also ensures every person that actually needs to deal with the mistakes sees action being taken in specific, measurable ways.

          FTR, I had a somewhat similar in my last job. It was two different departments – ours and the one that was technically senior to us – although sort of adjacent to the people actually senior to us, if you see what I mean. There were pre-existing tensions between our departments because we were complaints and they were product, and issues with the timescales our complaints-related requests were being dealt with in. The senior department were told to start using the same computer system we do to help us and them monitor our overlapping workload. None of them knew the system, the training they were given didn’t help with their use of it and it increased resentment all around. All this advice is based on the ways I – possibly the least senior, least respected member of my department – ended up doing almost all the work of fixing the issue, because I was the only one on my side of things willing to give the other guys the benefit of the doubt even thought I was as frustrated as the rest of us! It really did help.

        • I agree that it is no longer a group issue, and treating it as a group issue can really annoy the ones that are producing good work.
          I once had a job where there was a mistake made and the boss yelled at all of us. I hadn’t had anything to do with that process when it was going well, and, hadn’t been included in that process when something changed and it was messed up. I believe the boss was trying to use peer pressure from the group to get the desired result, but, I didn’t feel that I had any influence(young, outsider, introverted), and I hated getting yelled at, and so what I did was find a way out. This was what I felt that I had control over, so that was the road I chose.
          I even talked to the boss before I left and he said,”but, I didn’t mean you!”
          He yelled at all of us. If he didn’t mean to yell at all of us, maybe he should have been more selective? This was his management style. It was going to happen again. I was moving on.

          Document the training and the errors for each individual. Do this documentation in a way that it can be used as a plan of improvement and date everything. If your boss says that you need a six month plan of improvement for a person, a word from her now(5minutes) about how the clock is ticking down to 6 months, here is the plan and the expectations(documented in writing!) and your documentation as those six months pass will give you a possible sunset on the problem.
          If nothing occurs then? Find another job with a manager who can manage. If she can’t do it with the plan and documentation handed to here, then it is NOT an overwork issue after all.

    • I wrote a reply which apparently got eaten, but I don’t really care to type it again and all that really needs to be said is: Yes, these are all very good ideas, many of which I am already using and have been for quite some time. Sometimes someone is just a bad fit for a job, and that’s okay, it doesn’t make them a bad person. Regardless of whether they exaggerated in the interview or had a misunderstanding of the level of skill required, the result is that they’d still probably be happier and more successful doing something else. I myself left a job where I was in over my head, and things are a lot better.

      • Concur. There are jobs with expectations of independence and self-teaching that are good for me, and jobs with various expectations of self-directions that are bad for me. There are times that I can teach myself to work up to the expectations, and times when I can’t, because there’s a fundamental cognitive/working style/communication style mismatch.

        I have to seriously look out for this issue on my own behalf, because so many people see me only as a smart and competent person–which I like to think I am, anyway–and will try to pass me off in situations in which I really am out of my depth or don’t stand a good chance of getting the support or communication that I need. Once in a while I have to tell people that I am really not capable of a job that they don’t see any reason I’m not capable of.

        It sounds like some of these coworkers may simply be a bad fit for the expectations of this workplace, and not being up to meeting those expectations is making them bitter with anxiety and feeling out of their depth. Whether they willfully or inadvertently misunderstood what the job expectations were when they applied.

      • Kind of a tangent – but are you a) getting paid significantly to deal with all of this extra stuff? and/or b) have they committed to a timeline to promote you?

        Because you sound like an asset to the company, and if they don’t want to give you the power to resolve these types of situations (which it sounds like they don’t) then this might not be a very good investment of your energy, time, and expertise.

        • Seriously good tangent.

          • Love the tangent. Have you said to your employer, and I quote from an article about the pay-disparity, “I am the shit, pay me more”?

          • gah, I just realised I may have misgendered you here, LW2! If so, I really apologise. And you should still ask for a raise :-)

        • Having been the person who had a vague promise of a promotion dangled for YEARS only to have it never materialize, 1000x yes to this.

          • A million times seconded – was in a similar position here myself.

            And, in all likelihood, about to be again with a different employer… =/

          • Anyone have recommendations for what to do in the situation?

            Let’s say, after you’ve already discussed it with your boss a few times this year, talked about the future and asked for a timeline for both salary and promotion in responsibility and have basically gotten “Not yet, and we’re not sure when.”

            From what I can tell the options are a) get a job elsewhere or b) explain politely and professionally that you’ve really appreciated the opportunity so far and would like some action and/or something in writing that details next steps….so that you can make a decision on your future with the best information. But would the latter be considered a threat?

          • Been in the situation twice and the only option was to find another job, at which point your current employer will offer to match it – I personally left both times because I made a commitment to new employer.

      • LW2: please keep in mind that we can only go by what you say, and aren’t there at the job with you. I get that your situation is frustrating, but you’re coming across as impatient and annoyed with people who say “what about solution X” and you then say “that wouldn’t work because of a whole bunch of facts I didn’t already mention”.

        You are being forced to do things that are not your job and you are being required to work with people who, clearly, can’t do the work and don’t care to. That is something that should be management’s problem, not yours. You are not going to be able to fix this with Boss or Boss’ Bosses giving a shit and doing something.

        BTW you may already be doing this but: document EVERYTHING, with emails bcc’d to you as well as Boss, keeping notes in your calendar about who you talked to and what was said, etc. Because as you probably already guessed, as soon as Boss actually does something about Mr. Childish, he will swear up and down that you never said a thing to him and never helped him.

    • This is really good. I may make some additional comments based on my professional history as a technical trainer, but essentially, you’ve nailed it with the different learning styles observation and also the idea that everyone knows something that other people don’t.

    • Spot on! Also, it can seem like people who are complaining about lack of training are doing it to undermine more senior people like the LW, when that may not have intended that. They may feel they’re getting criticised for not doing their jobs, so they defend themselves by saying they need training. In response they get an email with instructions, which seems like a huge insult because it’s the opposite of training; and then they stick the memo upside down behind their computers as a return insult.

      But the crappy management response seems to be the problem. The tech savvy people shouldn’t have to spend time providing training or mentoring, and they’re probably not the best people to do it, as they won’t understand where the unsavvies are struggling.

      Management should be asked to provide properly qualified trainers to those who need it, to bring everyone up to speed. If that’s not an option, management could perhaps communicate exactly what skills everyone should have brought with them into their job, share details of the training courses that will provide said skills, and request everyone to ensure they’re up to speed. If neither of things were on the table, and I were the LW, I would be looking for a better managed place. In the meantime it wouldn’t hurt to be as kind as possible to the poor unsavvies who are going to be stuck there.

    • I’d also like to put in a small word for an insider wiki. You can produce the first document, but then others get to clarify some points, break things down further, add in things you forgot/assumed, provide a different view of the process. People are more likely to adhere to a procedure if they’ve had input into it. And in the long term it helps you weed out the ones who won’t participate at all.

  12. LW1: I’m kind of drawing a blank on good wordings at the moment, but I think if I was in your shoes, I’d consider “please stop making me look bad in front of Vic and Nat” to be a higher priority than “please stop doing that altogether”, and it seems to me like there should be a way to say the former that’s not quite as much of a challenge to her as any wording of the latter is likely to be.

  13. Take a photo of the memo on the wall. It won’t cost you anything but five seconds, and it may be quite useful later.

  14. For LW1, just a suggestion: substitute a smiling, confident, “No worries!” for “Thank you” in your replies It doesn’t sound defensive, but it emphasizes that you’re not fragile or hard to manage. But I would NOT recommend encouraging Cas to conduct a “performance review.” You’ve got one from the person who is actually your supervisor, and it was good. Why encourage Cas to project her unwarranted concerns about you onto piece of paper that, for lack of a clear idea where to put it, someone may stick in your employee file and that, depending on what she says, could make someone think *you* have issues working with *her*? She’s not really qualified to evaluate you. Why encourage her to do it?

    For LW2: Definitely don’t respond to the upside-down memo provocation, lest it make *you* seem petty or insecure. The real issue is that SmartAss is not following the procedures and it’s affecting the quality of his work. Just keep documenting his non-compliance and the effect it is having on his work product. And at some point you might suggest to your boss that the two of you meet with SmartAss to go over the procedures in an effort to suss out where the issues lie. Only in that context would I even consider mentioning the upside down memo — as in “I’m not sure whether he doesn’t get it, or whether he just has an attitude problem. I mean, when I asked everyone to post the memo in an effort to increase compliance, most people did and I think we saw an overall improvement in their work product. [Smartass], stuck his up behind his computer monitor, and upside down — which I assume was meant as a bit of a nose thumb — and his work is still pretty poor in that regard. I don’t know whether he’s not following policy because he doesn’t get it and couldn’t follow it if his life depended on it, or whether this is some kind of civil disobedience against a policy he doesn’t like. I’d love to get your take on the situation — and if it’s the latter, I’ll need you to back me up that this is not just some stupid rule he can ignore, it’s his job to do it this way.”

  15. I otherwise like the advice for LW#2, but I don’t agree with the “cc to boss”-thing. Why is there a need for that? The email has nothing that concerns the boss directly, but the CC can be directly attributed as a “f u”-gesture, the start of a cc-war, and any boss is probably more than tired of these. What I would rather do is send the email without the cc, and then if the need arises, forward the sent email to the boss. The paper trail is there anyway, but without the cc, it’s much less hostile and much more constructive.

    Handling office politics by cc is the reason I try to use email at work as little as possible. And I’m working in IT.

    • I like to use BCC for those exact reasons.

      • I don’t like bcc because it feels like planting a spy in the cupboard and setting up an entrapment situation. Even if a colleague is a bagge of dickes, they still have the right to clear information about whether their conversations are taking place in a private or public forum.

        • If they’re getting work-related emails at work concerning their work performance, then they should assume those emails are going to be seen by management.

    • The boss needs to know if there is an ongoing issues with performance. It is their job to know, and to evaluate their employees. And it’s also fair to let that employee know that this issues is being brought to their bosses attention.

  16. Love the Office Space reference, Captain. Anyone affected by the issues in these letters should watch that film – and then find a printer to smash up.

  17. LW2: Your boss is failing you by not managing her team. You might have accidentally enabled her in this by being super competent and great. Now is the time to have a talk with her about these issues, both as an advocate for yourself but also as an advocate for her. It will not be good for her career to have a half-broken team putting out shoddy work. It will not be good for her if her best talent is constantly looking for other positions, because the environment sucks. Other people upthread have said some great things about how the ‘unsavvies’ might need different/better training – although it sounds like you’ve tried everything – and offered some very empathetic perspective.

    You say your boss can’t deal with firing people. Maybe you could prep for the meeting with some ideas for those 6-month improvement plans*, like, maybe the people could complete a certain online course(s) for Excel and HTML and have to pass a test by x month? Your local library might have training courses or access to online training for little to no money. If they’re really beginners at HTML, CodeYear is a good, free place to start with highly trackable learning models (achievements! points!). Even if your boss just doesn’t like firing people, coming in with a plan to help half of your team achieve the very basic level of competency required for their jobs might be kind of eye opening. Also, to second someone above, maybe take some screen shots of unsavvy workers wasting all their time, photos of people napping (NAPPING GEEZ)?

    You can’t just wait for these workers to torpedo your career. As the senior on the team, you’ll be seen as responsible. Get your boss involved, even if she’s ‘too busy’. This is her job as much as any other work she’s doing. Maybe that email you’re going to send about co-worker’s intransigence would be a good jumping off point for the discussion.

    • AND my forgotten *: What country do you live in that has 6 month impovement plans before firing!?! I want to go to that economy.

      • It could be a government job in the US–I worked for a govt agency that had similar procedures.

      • My company has a similar policy for salaried employees–I work for a private company in the United States.

        I’m not sure why the policy is so lenient, but it’s a great comfort to me when I’m feeling down–if I’m ever about to be fired, I’ll know well in advance! :)

      • I work in govt/non-profit field and it is impossible to get anyone fired. And if you try to get anyone fired, your life can become very unpleasant. The only times people lose their jobs are in clear-cut cases of 1) financial malfeasance or 2) sexual abuse/really terrible harassment. The last case I heard of that resulted in termination was when two supervisors were taking their subordinates to a building that was undergoing renovation and having (consensual) sex with them–on the clock. And the only reason they lost their jobs was because the sex was caught on tape.

        So a six-months improvement plan seems pretty accurate to me. I think some people I’ve worked with have been on a fifteen-year improvement plan. Not all govt workers are lazy and no-good. Most are fine. But once a person is entrenched, it is impossible to get rid of them.

        • I’m in a similar field, where it’s similarly difficult-to-impossible to get fired. We did have one dude get caught smoking dope in. the. building. He got fired.

          Mostly, though, departments have to literally re-organize to shuffle people off to hopefully better-fitting jobs. Come to think of it, a little bit of this might be happening in LW2′s situation – maybe some known poor performers have been sneakily offloaded to her team. Which could explain some of upper management’s disinclination to engage……..

          • We call this practice “pass the trash.” I come from a family of teachers, and about 20 years ago, if a teacher were really bad–mean, lazy, stupid (not full-blown evil, though)–he/she would be promoted into administration, because then at least he/she would be away from the kids. The general thinking was that the adults he/she had to supervise were competent enough to fend for themselves. I don’t think this is the accepted practice today, since most of the administrators I deal with are competent and pleasant. But it explains some of the real resentment between teachers and their administrations, since some people have long memories or inherited biases.

        • WOW. My job is technically casual, so if they wanted to get rid of someone they would just not extend their contract. When I’m done with school I’ll (ideally!) end up back in the govt/non-profit sector though and once I have an actual proper full-time job it’ll be interesting to see what the policies are.

      • A fair number of collectively bargained jobs in the US have similar protections. The idea is to make it harder for employees to get fired because they don’t get along with the boss or because they can hire someone else to work cheaper or some other unfair reason, but it does have the unfortunate side effect of making it VERY HARD to get rid of people even when they deserve it.

    • This, so much. Nobody likes to fire or discipline people (well, nobody you’d want to talk to), but that’s part of Boss’ job.

  18. Not applicable to LW2, but “general” training advice. I always start by telling the newbie this is how I personally get the result I want. They need to learn MY WAY and prove they can get the right result in a reasonable timeframe.

    After that, they are welcome to improvise–as long as their new method works & they can train a backup person on it, they can drop MY WAY. It cuts down on a lot of “why do you take that (looks like a waste but is vital to a later bit) step?” and “did you ever consider (thing that doesn’t work)?”

    They learn what Good Result looks like.
    They learn how long it takes currently.
    They learn you’re willing to be flexible & work with their skills…eventually.

    It’s almost always effective, too.

  19. I’ve had the annoyingly patronizing supervisor issue. It was in an end-of-highschool volunteer opportunity thing, but this person tried to be my mom. It ended in her not letting me do any actual work and asking me if I was autistic and needed special accomodation after slight social awkwardness and not wanting to be touched.

  20. LW2, I get your frustration. I also work in a setting where it’s almost impossible to get people fired – and certainly not fired for mere incompetence.

    When I re-read your letter, I noticed that you mention that this job is a great fit for you, but I wonder if it’s only the technical side of the job that you really enjoy. What you’re having are management problems, which are a whole other kettle of fish. Managing a team means meeting people where they are, learning what they need in order to succeed, and doing your best to provide for those needs. Managers have to work with disparate personalities and skill-levels, and figure out ways of motivating people to work together and do good work.

    Your manager sounds terrible at these things, btw, so I can see where you’re not getting any help there. And being a good manager is not for everyone, by any means. (Personally, I hate managing. And I have a management degree.)

    But if you want to stay on the team-lead-to-management career path, dealing with these types of interpersonal issues are always going to be among your biggest responsibilities, so maybe try to find a way to get excited about it? Try to see management problems as another puzzle to be solved? There are tons of techniques to learn – it’s a whole field! Humans are still humans, so it’s still messy, but messy doesn’t have to be toxic. Good luck!

    • Definitely don’t want to be a manager, I was in my last job and hated it. The team lead thing was initially supposed to be a team lead of a very specific set of tasks (the tasks I enjoy doing), not exactly leading people. I expected to have some training responsibilities, of course, but it’s passed a point that I think is reasonable.

      • I quite understand. One of the worst things about managing is when you’re given the responsibility for achieving a result that depends on the contributions of other people, but you are not given any actual authority/power over those people that would enable you to make them do their bit. (At least, that’s what my husband hates every time he gets sucked into managing rather than purely technical stuff). Which it sounds like is what you’ve got here, title or no.

        Since you’re already saddled with the expectations, maybe it would be better in the long run to ask for specific kinds of authority to be formally, if temporarily, delegated to you? Like, “For the duration of this project, in the context of project work, I would like to be formally designated as the team’s supervisor, so that my evaluations of their performance would have some weight, and if need be with some of the less motivated employees I would have power to reprimand and develop an action plan for what would be considered acceptable performance within this project, that they would understand you would then use as part of your evaluations of them in the larger context?”

        Just a thought.

  21. Don’t Cc the boss. Bcc her.

    Otherwise, textbook advice.

  22. I have a supervisor who was always really condescending and mean to me, but only in a way where it was pretty hard to accuse her of anything technically WRONG. She’d bring me back to the conference room for “serious talks” about how my shirt was showing “too much cleavage” and require me to pin it closed until it went up to my neck (it was a normal work shirt, but I have large breasts, so it often appears like it shows more than it does), but my other female coworkers sometimes wear things like spaghetti straps and very low cut shirts and they never get a peep from the supervisor. Stuff like that. This kind of stuff went on for awhile until I started gaining allies in the director (who is above my supervisor) and the other division managers as well (by offering to do extra projects, etc). I also started sending lists of my job duties to my supervisor when I kept finding myself getting worker reviews that were less than steller and with a continual “you have sloppy writing” mark on the comments (every time and it was the same language too- so I knew she was just copy-pasting everything from the last performance review which really bothered me). Once I started sending over lists of my duties and projects worked on, my performance reviews really improved and she began treating me better. And it also helped when we downsized the workforce (horrible budget cuts, but we mostly ended up just “not filling” positions when people retired instead of actually firing anyone) and people left/moved departments- so now I’m one of the more long-term workers who has been around awhile.

    I do, however have an issue with another coworker in my own work situation..and would appreciate some other perspectives on it. He is a really nice person and is one of the new custodial supervisors for over at another location. But he still comes into our office from time to time. He’s really jovial and funny and I like his personality. But he’s REALLY touchy-feelie. Not in a creepy way, mind you, but he’s really into the whole “suddenly grabs your shoulder in a camaraderie kind of way” thing or “grabs your hand and holds it and looks into your eyes and stuff” thing. I mean, on one hand, I understand that this is probably just his way of doing things, but on the other hand, it weirds me out. There’s probably also a semi-racial/cultural heritage component to it- he’s African-American and I come from an Italian-American heritage (my family and extended family is really physically affectionate but only really with family and super familiar people). So I’m used to having that kind of physical interaction with people I know really well, and this coworker, well, I don’t really know him well, so it always kind of squicks me. But I don’t want him to think that I’m squicked out because of his race or something- it’s just the touching that bothers me. So it’s hard to bring it up in a way that doesn’t sound either at least somewhat racist or overly sensitive- he’s not being sexual and he’s not just doing it to me- he’s just like that with everyone.

    But I still don’t like it. :(

    • maybe you don’t even need to say something. I used to have similar problems with some co-workers (beeing at that time the only female with a douzen male around me) and most of it ended by just taking the hands from shoulders and removing them while proceeding in my doing (talking/writing/etc). Sometimes with a little smile to show it’s no personal thing, sometime jokingly saying ‘we’re not that good friends yet’. Important (if you want to avoid further conflict and like the person) is to proceed like it was no big deal. because in most times the other person didn’t do it on purpose.*

      * – I’m not talking about creepy persons. they need a clear ‘don’t touch!’

    • I don’t think there’s anything offensive about saying “Please don’t touch me” the next time he does that. Just say it in a moderate tone of voice and move right on with whatever you were doing. It doesn’t have to be A Conversation, and you don’t need to mention cultural differences.Treat it like it’s on a par with “you’re standing on my foot”, and hopefully he’ll do the same.

    • As someone with a very strong startle reflex, I have to say that very few people touch me unexpectedly more than once or twice. Any chance you could suddenly develop something similar?

  23. Hmmm… all of my comments seem to be automatically going to moderation. Have I messed up and done something wrong? Or am I just talking too much? :D

  24. Hey LW2, here’s a great tip I learned in TEFL training which I have since found helpful in all sorts of other contexts and which might help with this issue:

    This was after I asked her point blank if she understood and was completing the task, and she said yes.

    If you ask someone ‘Do you understand?’, you will almost always get back the answer ‘Yes’ regardless of whether or not it’s true. (Irritating, but you’re not going to change this.) It is much more productive to ask questions which elicit feedback on how well they’ve understood. After giving instructions, you could say something along the lines of, ‘Great, so to recap, tell me what you’re going to do first… and then…’ etc You then either say ‘Great, sounds like you know what you’re doing here’ which is a nice confidence boost for them, or ‘We seem to have crossed wires about x’ and then go over the instructions and hash out whatever it is they’re not getting (bearing in mind the comments from above about maybe needing to explain things in a different way). Repeat as necessary.

    I even use this in the other direction, so if someone has given me a complex set of instructions then even if they don’t ask for it, I repeat them back so if I’ve missed anything there’s a chance for them to tell me.

    Hope this helps.

    • That is very helpful!

    • Your technique also works really well with the boss who gives you a task and after it’s done you get the “this is not what I expected” or “I told you xyz”. I always recap, repeat back what my task is to the giver – then if issues arise anyway I start sending the emails that start with the phrase:

      “Just confirming our conversation, I will do X, Y, Z and have it to you by ABC.”

      This email format may help LW2 with documenting his slackers…of course LW2 would email; YOU will do X by A.

  25. Hi guys! LW#1 here. Captain, your turnaround time is absolutely crazy. So grateful for the timely advice.

    I hadn’t really thought about the fact that Cas has never supervised anyone, and so I recant my statement that I don’t care why she talks to me in such a strange way. It’s a lot easier to be understanding rather than irritated when considering that she, like me, just wants to do a good job.

    I just got out of a meeting with Nat and thought I’d let y’all know that I asked her about the performance review thing. I took a really inquisitive approach and just said I wanted to be sure I understood the chain of command, and she told me that this very week they restructured things to put the leads in charge of performance reviews. So Cas was totally right to do it, which is kind of a relief, really, because now I don’t have to worry about it.

    One last thing, which is cracking me up given how quickly this happened: Nat has offered me a potential promotion to lead on another client this spring. So y’all are right; being chill is the way to go. It’s going to be a non-issue in a few months (and you can bet your bottom dollars that I will remember this experience and try not to be a mother hen to anyone who works under me)!

  26. Lots of comments already but a couple things that stuck out for me re: LW2 –

    (1.) I am “unsavvy” in things like Excel; I can do basic tasks but nothing fancy. I would both claim to know Excel to get a job & also be unable to “just google it” to upgrade my skills. In my city, there are cheap 1/2-day workshops nearby, which I have appreciated (my employer paying to send me to).

    But (2.) it sounds like many of these “major” tasks have been not-being-done for a long time, and things have not ground to a halt? The mandatory-post-in-your-cube document, that was triggered by “notification…via the manager of another team tangentially involved” — does that mean it doesn’t really affect anything non-tangential? Whether or not it’s true organizationally, it may seem to be true departmentally, to these staffers, that the tasks you’re frustrated about are tasks that don’t matter, don’t affect things overall, & clearly don’t affect their job security.

    I used to work for a training & development firm where we used the “gun to their head” metaphor. If you were to put a gun to their head & they could do the task then, what they need is not more training.

    • Maybe I’m misreading what your first paragraph said, but what you seemed to be saying is that you would claim to have skills you don’t actually have, so an employer would hire you for a job that needs those skills; and, once hired, you would expect your employer to pay to train you in the skills needed for the job, which you said you had but actually don’t?

      • I don’t think that’s a fair reading — I mean, I have certainly indicated on job applications that I know how to use Excel, because… I do. Everything I have ever needed to do with Excel, I have been able to do. But I know there are things that can be done in Excel that are beyond my knowledge, and if you asked me to do them I might or might not be able to work it out on my own. At that skill level, I don’t think it’s inaccurate to check the box next to Excel on the “software you can use” list; if the position requires a skill level beyond basic, the person writing the posting or conducting interviews needs to make it clear what they’re looking for.

        • That makes sense. But LW2 is not saying that the application form said “can you use Excel, Y/N” and the people who checked “Y” only know the basic functions; zie is saying that these people represented during interviews that they could do things they in fact can’t do. That is very different from an employer saying, we want you to learn more advanced things so we’re going to send you to this training class. In LW2′s situation the employer would be paying to teach those employees skills they claimed they had in the first place, and for which they were hired.

          • I have some Excel (etc.) skills, just not advanced skills; I’ve been in job settings where that was fine & others where I’d need to brush up. It depends on how detailed the questioning was in their interviews. But regardless, I’m curious about how crucial this stuff is in LW2′s place of work; if people are going for long periods of time without knowing or doing these tasks, either they’re actually not such important tasks after all, or someone else is taking up the slack. Neither of which is a big motivator for those people to brush up.

  27. Was trying to reply to Talos with this re: learning styles….

    This. I am an experiential learner, too. Manuals, guides etc. can get me started, and are good to refer to for me, but I need 3-4 times that much stuff to learn what I can learn quickly and easily hands on and with a bit of repetition.

    Last year I worked as a customer service rep for a pet insurance provider. I loved where I worked, but I just could not get my brain around the insurance coding, and we had to have it down-pat MEMORIZED for the tests. My brain refused to absorb and retain it. It didn’t matter that I studied constantly, asked for help, drilled, etc. Needless to say, I couldn’t pass the final training and they fired me, despite near-perfect call scores, being well-liked, etc.

    I’d never worked a call center job that expected up-front expert level. Every job I’d had before was open book for the tests, since they knew the difference between being able to rote recite in class and on tests and the reality of the call center floor. To them, knowing where to find the info was just as vital as learning it. This company didn’t see it that way, and the clash between their policies and my learning style lost me a job.

  28. For Business interpersonal conversation, I’ve found in the past that Meryl Runion “Speak Strong” book and its ideas to be very useful for me. [Some of Meryl's tips might be especially useful for LW1.]

    Her main idea is to “mean what you say and say what you mean without being mean while you say it.”


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